Comic strips such as Popeye, Terry and the Pirates, and Blondie marked the rise of the newspaper as entertainment in the early part of the 20th century, and the top comic strip artists prospered greatly, some earning the equivalent of $1.8 million a year. But the success of Peanuts and its characters was in a class by itself.
At Peanuts’ peak in 1969, it was syndicated by United Features to 2,000 newspapers. More importantly, it leveraged its presence to springboard additional channels for its characters in TV, amusement parks, ice shows, bedsheets and even the Apollo space program (Apollo 10 was dubbed “Snoopy 1”), while serving as corporate icons for Ford, MetLife and Dolly Madison baked goods.
“Schulz and Peanuts” author David Michaelis notes that the newspapers initially resisted the extensions, believing they owned Peanuts (they didn’t), and not realizing that the greater exposure only reinforced their own readership. This incredibly well-researched “insider’s” biography of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz is a great and thoughtful read that is illustrated by hundreds of panels from Peanuts — Schulz’s life was out there for all to see. It doubles as one of the best business histories I’ve read.